Children’s brushing battles and simple ways to combat them

kids oral healthFigures from Oral-B reveal the reality of British children’s oral health habits.

Research has highlighted the latest oral health battle between parents and their children.

Oral-B has shown that 70% of parents say ensuring their children regularly pick up a toothbrush is the most stressful element of modern parenting.

On average, parents will spend nine minutes nagging their kids to brush their teeth. When the little ones finally get brushing, they only last an average of 76 seconds.

Despite frustrated parents’ best efforts, British kids are brushing their teeth on average just nine times a week. They are skipping on at least 20 occasions every month.

Conducted in August 2019, the research was discovered by Oral-B, in conjunction with their #Strongteethstrongkids campaign. This encouraged parents to take part in a #Bedtimebrushchallenge.

Raising awareness

The campaign aimed to raise awareness of the importance of oral health. It supported parents in the UK to ensure children have access to better oral healthcare from home. There were also tips from experts and parenting influencers.

The study found that 70% of parents admit that the flashpoint of brushing can cause tantrums. So, it is no surprise that 71% admit they sometimes give up. They let toothbrushing slide to avoid a major meltdown.

If their children were left to their own devices, only 22% of parents think that they would do any brushing at all. This is despite the fact that the average British child consumes three fizzy drinks, three packs of sweets, and four chocolate bars every week, according to the research.

The majority (86%) of British parents admit that their child eats too much sugar. This is one reason why 46% of kids have had a filling or a cavity.

Worried and ashamed

Problems with brushing causes parents some social anxiety too; 7% of parents admitted they are ashamed of the state of their kids’ teeth. And 30% say they constantly worry about their kids’ teeth.

‘This research shows just how hard it can be for parents to encourage their kids to brush their teeth well every day,’ said Adam Parker, northern Europe marketing manager at Oral-B. ‘We’re on a mission to improve the oral health of kids in the UK by helping parents make brushing fun.’

With 2,000 respondents, the study found that only 18% of parents say they are proud of their own dental health. Around 15% admit to having bad teeth. And 19% say they wish their own parents had forced them to brush more.

A staggering 96% of parents wish that dental hygiene was taught in school. Perhaps because it might make enforcing an oral health routine at home easier.

When it comes to routines, 62% of kids brush their teeth every morning, 58% brush every night. Only 55% use a good toothbrush and 51% go to the dentist every six months.

Only a third use a fluoride-rich toothpaste and just a quarter manage to have any sugar-free days at all.

Avoiding the problem

Stoke-on-Trent is the brushing capital of the UK, where kids brush 11 times a week – and for around 90 seconds. Compared to Leicester where they only brush eight times a week and for 60 seconds.

Dr Roksolana Mykhalus, founder of children’s practice Happy Kids Dental, said: ‘We’ve seen first-hand just how poor oral health in children can be – and this research shows just what a struggle it can be to get kids to brush their teeth.

‘Most of these problems could be avoided if children had a regular oral care routine at home, and ate a healthy, balanced diet. We always recommend that children should brush their teeth twice a day for two minutes (ideally with an electric toothbrush from aged three upwards), accompanied by a fluoride toothpaste.

‘When kids have strong healthy teeth the difference in their general wellbeing is really noticeable, they tend to be much happier and more confident versus those with poor oral health.’

Ten top tips to help make toothbrushing fun for children, courtesy of Oral-B

  1. Role play with a story. Get creative and make up a story that puts brushing at the heart of the action! Perhaps each tooth is a car that needs cleaning, or what if evil dragons have invaded the teeth kingdom and only brushing can fight them off?
  2. Download the Oral-B Disney Magic Timer app. Oral-B’s free Disney Magic Timer app by Oral-B encourages kids to brush for a whole two minutes by their favourite Disney characters while earning stickers and exclusive virtual experiences
  3. Have a bathroom dance party. Create a playlist of your kids’ favourite songs and turn brush time into a brushing dance party that happens twice a day. Pick any song and brush away as it plays for two minutes – everyone can dance along!
  4. Pick your own toothbrush. Let your child pick their favourite toothbrush to use during brush time. From Disney characters to brightly coloured handles, there’s a toothbrush to help your kid up their brushing game
  5. Turn the bathroom into the dental practice. Use your imagination and turn the bathroom into a dental practice where your kid has an appointment every morning and evening. Make them stay in the ‘waiting room’ until the dentist is ready to see them, then resume the role of the dentist, inspecting your kids’ teeth and overseeing the brushing process. Use this to turn brushing into a game, all while making kids excited for their next trip to the dentist!
  6. Families that brush together, smile together. Turn brushing time into a group activity that the whole family can do together. Make it into a ‘no-miss’ daily event that everyone (including parents and guardians!) look forward to taking part in each day
  7. Brushing sing along. Replace some of the words to a well-known song that you can sing to while brushing. For example, ‘Let them glow’ sung to the ‘Let it go’ tune from Frozen.
  8. Make a rewards chart. Get crafty and design a homemade star chart: every day your kid completes brushing, they earn a sticker for the chart. When they earn a certain amount of stickers they win a prize!
  9. Role play with a favourite toy. Make sure your child’s favourite cuddly toy or doll also has its own toothbrush and joins in on brush time every day. Using the toy will explain why it’s so important to look after teeth, and help show children what to do. When kids see their beloved toy having their teeth brushed, it will motivate them to do the same
  10. Pull a silly face. Bring a bit of joy to brush time by pulling silly faces when your kid finishes brushing each quadrant of the mouth. The silly faces only appear when they have brushed that area properly, and once they are done you can pull a silly face together and take a silly selfie to celebrate!

Why not cut out the top tips box (above), photocopy and hand out to parent patients?

To see more tips and advice from Oral-B, visit

This article first appeared in Oral Health magazine. You can read the latest issue here.

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